On September 1st, RADAR is hosting a debate on this somewhat controversial motion.
David Freud, author of the Freud report and the Government's chief advisor on welfare reform, will be proposing it with Dr Rachel Perkins, Director of Quality Assurance, South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust. Sir Bert Massie, former Chair of the Disability Rights Commission and now Head of the Commission for the Compact, will be opposing the motion with Kate Green, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group.
Why have we chosen such a controversial topic? Well, this issue is not going to go away. Welfare reform is high on the political agenda of both main parties. Benefits, work capacity assessments, scroungers, spiralling costs: these words echo through the media.
Welfare reform can go one of two ways.
- A) A welfare reform programme geared towards liberation – which liberates disabled people and their families (in work or unemployed) from poverty, from labour market discrimination, from a culture of low expectations. It empowers disabled people to learn, earn and progress in their chosen career or vocation, with individually tailored support available whenever they need it and with much greater control.
- B) A programme where, for the sake of expediency and favourable headlines, those deemed capable are dragooned into any old job - new obligations for disabled people, but not for employers, and nothing on the disability equal pay gap - disabled people earn 10% less on average than non-disabled people. This will waste talent and ambition, and bring misery and fear to those threatened with the loss of vital income unless they take jobs without the support to do them.
This issue must be debated amongst disabled people and allies if we are to have any hope of setting the agenda and securing (A), instead of ending up with (B). We need to open up debates - and not be afraid of controversy - if disabled people are to have any hope of building key arguments and developing new ideas. Then we can build more powerful and credible coalitions for the policy changes that are needed.
Disabled people are not workshy: the fear is of poverty - or rather, of even greater poverty than we face already. The recent Welfare Reform Green Paper offers some chinks of light – the pledge to double the Access to Work budget and possibility of integrating work-related support into an individual budget, but it still harbours uncertainty.
The results of this debate and the opinions of the disabled people who attend it will influence policy planning in the run up to the General Election, at which welfare reform will be a major issue. We must come together to make sure welfare reform is done properly, for the alternative is stark. The call-to-arms has already sounded for this phase of welfare reform: hear it, disabled people (to paraphrase the bard), for it is a knell which summons thee to heaven or to hell.